Thursday, August 29, 2013

Looking For a Fun Way To Build Your Vocabulary Word By Word?

Remember all those vocabulary lists you had to memorize in elementary school? I know, it's a bad, bad memory for many.

If only our teachers had provided us with a fun way to build our word knowledge. Fun or not, if you're a writer or student, words are your tools. The last thing you want is to limit your ability to express yourself because your word toolbox is half empty.

Last month, I found Vocabulary.com, a site that tries to make building your vocabulary fun. I tried it, and liked it. One of my older children saw me playing on the site and got hooked, too.

So if you've been telling yourself you need to improve your vocabulary, then check out Vocabulary.com. Maybe you'll like it.

Note: Every so often I will share links to sites I find interesting. I do this because mom always said it was better to share.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

5 Ways To Enjoy Creative Fun-Time With Your Kids

With only a few more weeks left of summer vacation the question on many parents' minds is: Now what do we do with the kids?

If you're like me, I don't want them glued to the television for eight hours, or stuck to the computer playing games or on Facebook. It's a huge challenge in my house because I have five children to "entertain." 

Being a writer and creative type has helped me come up with ways to stave off the dreaded sound of "Dad, I'm bored!" coming from the living room. Here's the first of five activities I have found to enjoy creative fun-time with my kids. Each of these five activities are inexpensive, too. 

Activity #1
Acting out our favorite book or movie. 

My kids really get into this - especially if there's a lot of action and cool costumes. Some faves have been anything Star Wars, Stargate, Harry Potter and Ice Age. The kids often will spend a couple of hours in their room planning out scenes to act out, setting up props, costumes, etc. Usually they do this in secret because they want to surprise mom and dad. We have a craft box with crayons, markers, cardboard and other materials for them to use, but we let them use the dining room chairs, bed sheets and whatever else they may need (as long as they don't ruin the furniture). 

If simply performing for mom and dad in the living room isn't exciting enough for the kids, we bring out the camcorder and film the entire production. Filming is usually the job my kids designate for me. We have relatives all over the country. So, I set up a YouTube channel where we can post these kids productions to share with family.
I keep it private allowing only family to access it. I recently found the My Kids' Adventures blog which gives parents ideas for having family fun. A recent post was titled: "How to Stage a Family Play With Your Kids." If your kids are anything like mine, acting out their favorite book or movie will provide hours (some times days) of free fun at home.


Next Post
Activity #2: Creative crafts with paper

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writers Must Live...Like Hemingway


I'm wearing a baseball cap. Shot a boar!
Ernest Hemingway was a man's man. He went on safari. He was a deep-sea fisherman. He loved adventure. Writers are often told to write what you know. If you do not live, you don't know much. Adventure in life is a writer's best muse. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to go wild boar hunting. I did it. I shot on my first try a boar. Did I ever think I'd go boar hunting? No... but as a writer... I knew I had to embrace it. 

My advice... Try new things... 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Writing Prompt: Is Air Conditioning Making Us Weak?

Scanning the headlines today at Dallasnews.com and I came across this opinion piece: Is air conditioning making us weak? Well, What if it is? What's it say about our future as a species? Write a 1,000-word short exploring that possibility.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Are Angels Real?

Well... I think so. 

Anybody else think so? 

I've been reading a lot lately. 

Skeptics deny anything that can't be proven. 

So... it makes it hard to determine an answer. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Are You Using All Five Layers Of Characterization?

In my freshman college writing classes, I ask my students to understand 10 literary terms and identify them in the readings we go through during the term. 

Those basic terms are theme, protagonist, antagonist, character, characterization, conflict, image, symbol, setting, and dialogue. I ask them to read my Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Series, as well as, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

As a literary element, characterization is a powerful tool for writers. I'm convinced that readers will love your story if they understand and appreciate your characters. Readers can't understand or appreciate your characters if you don't do the work to fully characterize them. 

Here are five layers of characterization to help you flesh out your characters whether they are protagonists, antagonists or supporting characters.

First of all, characterization is how you, the writer, describe or develop your characters. The five layers to do that are to show the character's appearance, describe the character's actions, reveal the character's thoughts, allow the character to speak, and display how other characters react to the said character.

What does all that look like? My next blog will provide examples.




Thursday, March 21, 2013

Latest From Daniel - A Mall Demons Character Journal

Here's the latest from Daniel, the main character in my Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Series (To follow Daniel's Journal, subscribe to the Pheed):

Nobody can see Evangeline and Watcher in their spiritual form because they apparently exist outside of our reality. It's like another dimension. Evangeline says I'm special because I felt them at my bed. Just couldn't see them. Come to think of it, I had a weird feeling when I was sitting outside the mall yesterday. I also felt it at the restaurant and walking home. Think I'll ask them about it. © 2013 pheed.com/Daniel1


Sunday, March 3, 2013

2 Ways To Raise Money For A Good Cause

OK. Here's a departure from my writing-focused blog entries.

But, this is good. Every writer should believe in something and get involved in the community to help their neighbors. So....I've decided to raise money for a cause.

Being a writer, I know human nature. Many of us really don't want to be bothered by solicitors. Yet, I figured there are two commodities most of us are willing to let go of without much haggling: used beverage cans and pennies.

So my family is knocking on doors asking for cans and pennies to help send out missionaries across the U.S. and the world. Our preliminary goal is to raise $2,000 by April 2. Seems reasonable. 

Now, the great thing about this blog is that I do have a PayPal button that you can use to make a donation if you want to support our effort. Donate a penny, a dime, a quarter or more. We are sending everything to our effort to send out missionaries.

If you have any questions, send me a note. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The 2 Must-Have Qualities For Writing Success

In my effort to read 75 books this year, I just picked up two books from my local library: "letters to a young journalist," by Samuel G. Freedman and "Letters To A Young Novelist," by Mario Vargas Llosa.

I decided to start Freedman's book first. Logic behind it: I worked as a journalist for more than a dozen years before working on my current project - seven modern fantasy novels I call the Mall Demons Series.

I reached Page 7 of Freedman's book when I came across a sentence that forced me to re-read. The number seven has always been my lucky number, and it is considered a number of spiritual perfection in the Bible. I know, I digress. But I believe today of all days was the day to begin reading this book and come across this sentence because I just witnessed it in action in the classroom and was pleased. 

The sentence lauded two qualities above another for achieving excellence. For me, considering my experience in the writing classes I've taught during the last few years, these two qualities are the ones my most successful students have possessed. What is funny is that some of my best students have confessed to me after the first day of class that they "hate writing," or "have never been any good at writing." 

However, they possessed these two must-have qualities that helped them, by the end of the term, achieve writing success. The great thing about these two must-have qualities is that anybody can cultivate them. So, back to Freedman's book.

In this section of the book, Freedman shares about his experience as a first-time professor at Columbia University. In his discussion of that first class, Freedman says this: "I was affirmed in my belief that intellectual curiosity and a relentless work ethic matter infinitely more than natural ability in achieving excellence."

I did a double take. Yes! "Intellectual curiosity and a relentless work ethic." These are the two qualities my best writing students have possessed. I have had students who seemed to possess a natural ability to tell a compelling story. But many failed the course because they couldn't complete the work.

I was inspired today by one of my students who turned in a draft early. This student confessed early on in the term that "writing was not her thing." While the class took a quiz, I pulled out my orange pen and marked up the pages she gave me. I didn't spare one sentence. But I knew she would appreciate my meticulousness. All term she has examined and highlighted the writing textbook, asked question after question, and submitted draft after draft for my approval. On a few occasions she sent me e-mailed drafts hoping for an immediate response. "Before next class." All this from a student who admits she doesn't like writing.

Intellectual curiosity. Relentless work ethic.

After the quiz, I returned the draft to my student. Her eyes widened for a second at the sight of all the orange marks on her paper. Then she asked questions. "What does this mean?" "How do I fix this?" And then she said something that made me very happy. I forget her exact words, but it was something like, "It'll be great when I can get back a paper that has no orange marks on it."

That made my day.

Do you want to be a writer? Ask yourself: "Do I possess these two qualities?" Intellectual curiosity. Relentless work ethic. If not, cultivate them now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Are You Scared Of Writing? I Will Help

Let me fill you in on a secret. It's a secret many of us weren't clued into: Knowing how to write is important!

There it is. Now you know. But, maybe, you aren't confident in your writing ability. Maybe, your schooling didn't help you. Maybe, you didn't pay attention in those English classes. 

Well, now, you know better. But where do you go? How do you learn how to write? That's where I can help.

You're nervous. Scared. Embarrassed. Then ask me. I'm a writer. I've been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. I am a writing professor. So, confide in me. No question is off limits. What's a subject? What's a verb? How do you write a paragraph? I have the answer. Just ask. I'll help. I won't judge.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

4 Ways To Use Life's Problems In Your Writing

The last few weeks have been filled with the kinds of troubles that break lesser writers.

Forget writers, how about humans (men and women). It doesn't matter where you live or what your occupation might be. Your age or anything else. One thing is certain. Whether your American, Russian, Japanese, British, African, Brazilian or other, you have to deal with life's problems. 

We all have them. Gotta eat. Gotta pay the bills. Gotta have fun some way (Fun is essential). And if you're a writer, these problems can de-rail your writing. It can, but shouldn't. So, here are four ways to use life's problems to help your writing.

1. Consider problems as an inevitable way of life: Face it. Life is full of problems. Can't get around it. Accept this truth, then you can use problems to advance your writing. There's no way to live life without drama. Come to think of it, drama is what drives fiction. That leads us to #2.

2. The more problems you experience, the more you can write about with firsthand experience: This doesn't mean we should look for problems, but if they find you, don't get depressed. Take notes. You find yourself lost in love? Maybe jobless? Dealing with the death of a loved one? Whatever it may be, yes it's painful. So, take notes. Write what you feel. Write what you experience. Write it ALL down. Odds are someone else going through the same thing will relate. If you can put it in writing, you've gained a reader. And if you're a writer, you must always remember that you need readers. Readers are your audience, and you must understand your audience, which leads us to #3.

3. Use your problems to walk in your readers' shoes: Write what you know is what we're talking about. But... what if you've never walked in your readers' shoes? Well, see every problem you encounter as a way to relate to more readers. I mean this. For example, what if you've been cheated on in love. Heartbreaking. This destroys lives. Nobody wants to experience it, but if you do and are a writer, you can share that experience. Why? Because odds are some of your readers have been there, too. If they read your work and how you dealt with it, they might have a better chance of overcoming it. If they overcome it by reading about your experience, well...how do you think they'll think of you? This leads us to #4.

4. Be vulnerable. Share it all and you'll help yourself and your readers: Look up the word "catharsis." That's what you can experience if you write through your problems. It's great therapy for you to get all that poison out of your system. Put the poison in words on the computer screen or on paper. Get it there so that it doesn't remain in your body. If it remains in you, it continues to poison you. Get it out! Yes, you reveal your soul to others, but they will appreciate it because your readers are just as hurt as you. They want help. You, the writer, can help them. They may not be strong enough to put their hurts into words. But you are strong enough. You are a writer. You can do it. So... do it now!

Do you know more ways to use life's problems to help your writing? Share your comments. Help us. You're a writer with valuable knowledge to share.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are You Good Enough To Be A Writer?

Have you ever wondered if you're good enough? Talented enough? And then a relative steps up to say, "No, quit dreaming already. Go get me some more cake."

And just maybe in that moment you cowered. You wanted to shout out: "Yes! I can do it! I am a writer! Shove your cake where the sun don't shine!"

But this isn't your fictional world. You can't manipulate the actions and reactions of the characters in this far too realistic drama. So you freeze.You say nothing. Maybe they're right. Maybe you weren't meant to be a writer.

Now, maybe you agree. Everyone's right. I was delusional. Now what?

I think I'll write about it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Can You Make A Living As A Writer?

Truth is I don't know.

But I must believe you and I can. That's why I'm putting all my eggs in the writing basket. It takes a lot of work. That's what I'm doing now.

Writing isn't just what I think of as artistic. Not just poetry. Not just short stories. Not just novels. There's so much more. I'm exploring that now. I'll let you know how it goes. Then you can tackle it too.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Daniel Speaks: A New Mall Demons Journal

Daniel is the main character in my Mall Demons Spiritual Urban Fantasy Series. The fate of the world is on his shoulders. He must prevail, or the world will become a demon playground.

Daniel is barely out of high school working as a busboy at a mall restaurant. When he's visited by two angels, he has a hard time accepting his role as savior of mankind. To cope with this responsibility, he writes down his thoughts in an online journal. This is Daniel's journal. It's available for all to read.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Productive Day...For The Most Part

I love Fridays because they are my days off from the classroom. Not that the classroom isn't fun, but my Fridays are my time to write, read, research, and have fun.

First things first, I had to renew some library books. Yes, I'm one of those borrowers who racks up overdue fines. But with e-mail alerts I'm more on top of my library account. Checking out e-books is great for avoiding late fees, too. Once the loan period is over, the book disappears from my Kindle. Sweet!

That's what we need: actual hardcover and paperback books that disappear through some sort of vortex or something when it's time to return them. The vortex then automatically sends them back to the library. Somebody needs to invent that!

Much of my research today has been on Christian fiction. I'm also reading "25 Books Every Christian Should Read," and Robert W. Bly's "Secrets of a Freelance Writer."

I've also been thinking a lot about my main character, Daniel, from my Mall Demons project. I started writing a journal in his voice. Trying to get in his head.

What really got me excited today is discovering that I've lost three pounds since I started hitting the gym. Writing and reading can be a sedentary lifestyle - and has been for me the last several years - so I decided this year I would get in shape.

Good times!



The Flu Season Sucks!

I can't even remember feeling healthy.

Maybe it's been days. Maybe weeks. Don't know. All I know is I'm coughing, sneezing all the time.

I am a big baby when I'm sick. I don't like to do anything... that includes writing. Although I have done some reading. Not much, but my goal this year is to read 75 books.

Right now it's quiet at my house. That's because everyone but me is asleep. Good times. Only thing is... we're out of tissue paper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How Do You Keep Writing? Write Crap

What do you do if you run out ideas?

How do you keep writing? Something inside you says you're a writer. I can do this. I will make it. I know I have something to say that readers will value. I know it. I feel it in my bones.

Is that you? Is that what you've said to yourself? But we stop writing. We stop. When we stop, who is stopping our dream of writing for a mass audience? Simple. We are. Better yet. Insert "I" into the statement.

"I stopped my writing."

Take responsibility. Then, write. Write crap. Write crap today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Write crap for a year... until you don't write crap. Just write. Write, write, write. Let the crap out.

Truth be told, some of what's published is.... wait for it.... crap.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mall Demons Journal In The Works

How would you react if an angel appeared to you in the middle of the night telling you that the fate of the world depended on you?

That is what my protagonist must face in the Mall Demons Urban Fantasy Series I'm currently writing. Daniel is his name. He's a Mexican-American Teen living in the Washington DC area. Now he is all that stands in the way of a Hell on Earth.

Can you say STRESS!

Fortunately, Daniel is a journaling type of guy. So, all those thoughts, all those fears are what he puts down in his personal journal. That journal will soon be available online. Daniel needs to write down what he goes through as it's happening. It helps him think through situations. Soon, you'll be able to read his thoughts as he fights the demons determined to create a Hell on Earth.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Creative Cooking

Five minutes ago I completed the evening dinner for my family of seven. Because I can't help but be creative, I decided to do something different.

My wife came home feeling ill. So, dinner was up to me. I decided to make it simple: two cans of beef stew from the pantry over a bed of rice. But... I was feeling creative. 
Rice in a star shape with carmelized onions and
sliced garlicky french toast.

I carmelized some onions. We had half a loaf of french bread left from yesterday. I whipped up a custard and soaked bread slices - like french toast - but made it savory. Translation: Garlicky french toast. 

Before plating, I decided to send a message to my kids: You're all superstars. I used a cookie cutter shape to form the rice in a star. They were super excited with the result. 

Good times.

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